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Aliens & Angels 

Meet Phronima, a rarely seen deep ocean resident that recently turned up on a local beach. How rarely seen? The citizen science site iNaturalist lists just nine other sightings of this genus for the entire West Coast of North America, and only 50 worldwide. Learn more about this strange and amazing creature on page 6.

Spring continues to unfold in the Santa Monica Mountains. Seemingly fragile Catalina mariposa lilies and lupines are wildflower survivors that have evolved strategies to bloom even in a drought year. These beauties are a welcome delight for humans, and an essential resource for native pollinators with fewer than usual resources this year.

October weather in April? Warnings went out on Sunday, when Santa Ana winds raised the wildfire risk, and even with the return of the marine layer, that danger is still present. Residents of the Santa Monica Mountains and other WUI—wildland urban interface—communities throughout the state are facing another environmental crisis this year: La Niña conditions continue to blight California’s chances for spring rain. 

The latest numbers place 77 percent of the state and almost all of Los Angeles County in the “Severe Drought” tier of the National Integrated Drought Information System’s index. Unless a May meteorological miracle occurs, all the indicators point to an early, dry and highly flammable summer this year, and with Santa Ana winds in April, fire season is already here.

The good news is that La Niña appears to be on the way out. Recent ocean temperature data and modeling indicate that neutral conditions will replace La Niña’s extremes by early summer, bringing the potential for normal rainfall this winter.

There continues to be good news on the local pandemic front. Los Angeles County is reporting the lowest daily rate of new COVID-19 cases since the coronavirus pandemic began last year. One year into the crisis,1,228,564 confirmed cases of the disease and 23,626 deaths later, the county’s daily positivity rate is down to 0.9 percent. It’s a fragile victory—the numbers can change fast, but it is cause for celebration or at least for cautious optimism. That isn’t the case everywhere. While all California counties are now out of the most restrictive Purple Tier, other states are struggling with a new wave of rising COVID-19 cases.

Health officials urge everyone to continue wearing masks, stay socially distant and get vaccinated as soon as possible. The vaccination age in Los Angeles County dropped to 16+ last week. California’s vaccination push and continuing mask mandates are credited with the progress being made in California to contain the pandemic.

Those masks have given us breathing space during a pandemic that has killed more than 3 million worldwide. Now is not the time to stop wearing them, but we all need to make sure they stay on our faces and don’t end up in the environment. Wildlife rescuers and rehabbers are increasingly finding birds and marine life entangled in discarded masks. The pandemic isn’t just a human tragedy, it’s a global environmental crisis. 

April 22 was Earth Day, and the official theme this year is Restore Our Earth.” This issue of TNT explores that theme with a look at composting in the Canyon (page 8) and the inspiring story of a local activist who grows gardens for and with unhoused Angelenos (page 10). We also take a deep dive into the strange and strangely beautiful world of ocean zooplankton, a critically important part of life on Earth that is almost entirely alien to life on land (page 6).

April 9 marked the 156th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War, and in this issue TNT historian Jimmy Morgan examines how Confederate General Robert E. Lee ended up on a pedestal after that defeat and how he is finally coming down from his high horse (page 13).

More museums and cultural institutions are reopened this month, including the Getty Villa, right next door in Pacific Palisades. And for the first time in more than a year, Topanga’s Theatricum Botanicum is offering in-person workshops and classes, welcome signs that the arts are reviving and coming back to life. Learn more in our Artbeat section, page 15.

We’re having fun with our “Where in the WUI?” activity and have had a great response from the community so far. Check out this week’s puzzle on page 18, and if you have a favorite landmark in the Santa Monica Mountains please send us a photo for a future WUI puzzle. wui@topanganewtimes.

Stay safe, be well.

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